The Power of the Cross in the Face of Unspeakable Tragedy

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Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev shepherd the Beslan Baptist Church in the city of Beslan, Russia. On the morning of September 1, 2004, they had sent their children off for the first day of school. The children left for Beslan School No. 1 with all of the hopes that come with the beginning of a new school year.

When the children arrived at school, they were not received with the warmth of their friends and classmates or the normal, loving affirmations of their teachers. Instead, they were confronted by the devastation and pain that life in this evil world often brings. A group of terrorists overtook the school that morning and killed several teachers, parents, and students in the process. Then they threatened to blow up the school and kill the several hundred remaining students and teachers.

Although the demands of the terrorists were not clear throughout the crisis, it was evident that they were from Chechnya, a republic in which there is a growing separatist movement and a desire on the part of many to create a Muslim state. Although the Russian government does not negotiate with terrorists, there were several attempts to set up a dialogue in order to find a way to resolve this conflict.

Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

For three days the threats continued. Some of the teachers and parents who had become hostages were killed. The terrorists, serious about their commitment to destroy the school and the children, had placed bombs in the school. On September 3, one of the bombs went off accidentally. When Russian forces stormed the school, the terrorists set off other bombs. The official record shows that 331 people were killed, 180 of them children.

Beslan Baptist Church lost fifteen children that day, as well as a Sunday school teacher and her toddler son. Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev lost six children between their two families. The pain in the hearts of our brothers and sisters was beyond anything they could bear, but they had been known for their outreach to the community, and now, in spite of their own overwhelming grief, they sought to turn the town toward the Lord.

For the Russian people, nothing could be more devastating than an attack on their children. They have no hope in the economic development of their nation; they have no hope in their government, and they have no hope for themselves in the future. All of their hope for the future is in their children. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend the suffering of the people of Beslan.

A LONG WAY FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Beslan_kollazh I had the privilege of visiting Beslan about one year after the attacks. My co-worker Todd Kelly, my longtime friend Dr. Gene Carlson (pastor of Westlink Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas), and I were teaching a pastors’ conference together in Prokhladniy, about 80 kilometers from Beslan. After preaching in various churches on Sunday morning, we traveled with Pastor Victor Levashov and a translator to Beslan.

We drove past the new school that had already been built and then arrived at the cemetery, which includes a new section dedicated as a memorial to the children, teachers, and parents who were killed that day, along with the soldiers who laid down their lives to protect them. Each gravestone is beautiful red marble, and in the very center is a picture of the loved one buried there. I was surprised to see that each grave also held a bottle of water or soda. Later I learned that the terrorists did not allow the children to drink, and all of the hostages were sick from dehydration.

After visiting the cemetery, we went to the school where the devastating battle took place. Except for the gymnasium, where the children and teachers were held for most of the time, the building had not been “cleaned up” at all. It still looked like the war zone that it was during those first three days of September, 2004. Rubble was everywhere, and bullet holes in the walls were clearly visible as we walked through the building. In the classrooms, we saw the children’s schoolwork and the lessons of the teachers. The blood of the slain terrorists was still visible on the floors and walls.

It was unclear whether the town of Beslan wanted to preserve the building as a “living memorial” to those who lost their lives, or if there had not yet been enough energy to clean up the debris. But as we walked through the school, we could still sense the heaviness and loss of those terrible days. We were overwhelmed at the thought of the evil that took place there.

As we were climbing over the debris in one of the classrooms and thinking of the children and teachers who had filled those rooms on happier days, Gene said to me: “We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden, haven’t we!” To be in a place where the depravity of the human heart had been displayed without measure, where the evil that we can perpetrate on one another is blatantly staring us in the face, reminds God’s children that the only place to “rest secure” is in His presence, which fills not only the highest places, the lowest places, and the farthest places, but the darkest places as well.

IS IT EASIER FOR CHRISTIANS?

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We left Beslan School No. 1 and went to the home of Pastor Sergei Totiev and his wife, Bella. They had lost two children, and their twelve-year-old son had been seriously wounded in the attack. He has since been to the United States for surgery. He has lost the sight in one eye, but his physical wounds are healing well. It is very difficult to know how or when his young mind and heart can be whole again, but he is with a wonderful family and church that surround him with the love of the Lord Jesus.

Isn’t the wonder of the Cross that God Himself entered the darkness and depravity of this evil world and bore in His own Son the pain of our lives? Because of the miracle of His grace, we can not only be forgiven but also healed and made whole again.

The apostle Peter described how Jesus took our sufferings on Himself in the Cross:

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:21-22)

Unlike us, Jesus was the innocent, holy Son of God. He owned the glories of heaven and the worship of the angels. Suffering and pain are an inevitable part of our human experience. We cannot avoid evil. It intrudes into our lives, bringing with it the devastation, fear, and brokenness of this world. In obedience to His Father, Jesus chose to enter into our suffering, not only identifying with us, but bearing the pain of our sin and depraved choices for us:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23-24)

As Gene, Todd, and I sat at the dinner table with Pastor Sergei and Bella, we could see the fruit of the Cross’s power in their lives. We sensed the peace in their home, and we saw the victory of Christ in the faces of their children. After enjoying Bella’s gracious hospitality and the delicious food she had prepared, we talked for several hours about God’s goodness and His loving care shown through the Body of Christ all over the world. They shared some of the warm letters of encouragement they had received and told us that not one day had gone by since the tragedy without receiving mail from brothers and sisters who wrote to express their deep love for them. In fact, one day the post office called and asked them to come and pick up their mail because they had received more letters than all the rest of the town!

Because Jesus was willing to be wounded at Calvary, we can be healed. Because He was broken, we can be whole again through faith in Him. Sergei and Bella have experienced this reality in its fullness because they trusted God when the darkness threatened to overwhelm them. For God, the dark is as light as the day.

Just before we joined hands together in prayer and entrusted this beautiful family to the Lord, Bella told us of a conversation she had recently had with another mother in town who had lost a son. This hurting woman was still overwhelmed by the evil that had intruded into her life and by the pain of her loss. Seeing Bella, she said: “We hear it is easier for you Christians.”

Desiring to reach out to this hurting woman and to share the good news of the gospel with her, Bella responded: “No, it is not easier for us.” Bella went on to tell the woman that the grief, pain, and fear were just as real for Christians as for anyone else. Then she continued, “But God gave His Son for us.”

Angrily the woman said, “That’s His problem! I did not have a choice. My son was taken from me.”

With great wisdom and compassion, Bella comforted this woman in her pain and then said, “God gave His Son in order that you might be forgiven of your sins.”

Pastor and Bella Totiev are resting secure in Him. Even though no one could answer the “why” questions of their minds, they have been able to experience God’s healing. When the light around them became darkness, they believed what King David had taught them. God makes the darkness light. When the thing we fear the most threatens to overwhelm us, God can still see the way ahead and can carry His children to places of rest, strength, hope, and even joy.

We see in Psalm 139, and in Sergei and Bella’s tenacious hope in God, one of the great themes of the Scriptures. From the beginning to the end this message cries out to us again and again: His presence changes everything! That incredible reality becomes the certainty on which we stand when the darkness closes in.


This post is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book The Blessing of Benjamin: Living in the Power of Your Father’s Approval. Buy on Amazon.

 

Image credits:

1 Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

2 Mourners come to School No 1 to remember the victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege Photograph: Krasilnikov Stanislav/ Krasilnikov Stanislav/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

3 Other photos

Why Does Ethiopia Need Expository Preaching? An Interview with a Trainer

todd-kellyI (Todd Kelly) recently joined two colleagues in Ethiopia, Doug Dunton and Sean Martin, to work with the Mentor-Trainers. These men are key leaders of this movement of the Word taking place in Ethiopia and graduates of the Training National Trainers program. (Learn about the movement of God’s Word in Brazil and beyond.)

I had the privilege to speak at length with one mentor trainer named Solomon. Below is a short excerpt with some wording edited for readability.


Todd Kelly of Leadership Resources: Solomon, you said that the people you are training are really eager to receive the training. Why is that?

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Solomon during our training

Solomon: Because our situation is not good. In our pulpits the preacher and teacher are preaching their own words not God’s Word. So when we say this at our training, they say, “We are in danger, we are in hardship, so we have to come back to the original…to the Word of God.” This is what they say. 

T: That’s very interesting. In some places this could be…kind of a threat… because you are telling somebody that they are not doing it right. But you are not getting that reaction.

S: No, no…because we are facing the challenge in our pulpits. It’s obvious. No one can say that there is not this problem in our pulpits. They can’t say that.

T: So they all recognize it?

S: Yes, they all recognize that this is the problem.

T: Apparently they want help…there’s a hunger for the training?

S: Yes, they have a big hunger…a big hunger to get this training. And when we trained them in the book of Jonah they asked us, “What can we do next?”

T: Yes, you were just telling me how they were frustrated…

S: Yes, especially when they finished the first training. They wanted us to come after two or three months. But we said you have to go back and give this training to a minimum of 2 or 3 people then you come with a report. This is our conviction. This they must do.

T: Solomon, what do you think? They recognize that there is a need. Do they also feel a sense of being empowered? Is their confidence growing as you train them?

S: Yes, especially after we finish the training. We discuss with the leaders and the trainees and they are becoming encouraged and try to work the principles to read the Bible better.

T: Can you think of one or two pastors with a personal story that shows transformation?

S: Yes, especially in Addis and in my area. Before they took this training they were confused to preach the Word of God but now they are able at anytime because they are working hard to understand the Word of God. They work hard.

T: Are you seeing changes in the churches and in the people themselves?

S: Yes, even in my church the evangelists have changed.

T: In what way?

S: When they preach the Word their preaching system is different. Most of the times they preach topical preaching. But now they preach expositional preaching.

T: What do you think is the benefit of that?

S: It’s of benefit for the person who preaches the Word because he understands the Word, he knows the author’s intent and he can get the heart of God to transfer for the hearers so the audience can get the Word of God. It has two kinds of privilege, one for the preacher and the other for the hearer. It is a privilege to know the Word of God!

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T: So, you’ve been involved in this training about 6 years. The first segment of the training ended after 4 years, and now you are one of the Mentor Trainers in the next level of training. What is it that keeps you involved? What benefit are you personally receiving?

S: I remember when we started this training. We didn’t understand what we were doing. After 4 years, we began to understand the main goal of the training. I get from this training how can I study the Word, how can I dig in the Word. It’s opened my eyes to read the Word of God, to be faithful to it and to be a faithful servant of God. I was taught it’s not enough for my heart only, it has to be passed on to the others. I decide that I would do it and God gave me a chance to become a Mentor Trainer. I am very happy because we’re working in the Word of God. This is a very, very good chance for me to challenge other ministers.

T: How do you think about this Mentor Trainer process? How is it different than the first level of training?

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Solomon and some of the other Mentor Trainers

S: In the first level of training we practiced the principles in each book. For example, in the first gathering we used a few principles to understand the book of Jonah. Then in the second gathering some others to understand the book of 2 Timothy. In this next level of training we take all 8 principles at once. They are integrated. This is very helpful to see it this way and when we train we can better help others.

T: How many pastors are you involved in training?

S: We have 4 groups. Each with about 15 pastors…60 total.

T: If we were sitting down with someone thinking about supporting the work in Ethiopia and they asked, “Solomon why do you think it is so important?” What would you say?

S: Do you see the pulpits? Go back and evaluate your pulpits your church, your preachers. And that immediately solves the problem. That is why they see the need immediately.

T: So why is it so important that the pulpits be changed?

S: Our pulpits should be preaching the Word of God, not the history of the preacher or his ideas, but preaching the Word of God.

T: And when they don’t preach the Word of God what are the consequences?

S: You see I served for the last 17 years in the church as a pastor. The life of the people doesn’t grow up. They come to the church every week, but they don’t grow up in the Christian life. This is the problem of the teaching and preaching of the ministers.

T: So they remain as infants?

S: Yes. So we have to change that for today’s church. People must grow spiritually.

T: Are you also seeing an increase in evangelism and church planting as a result of people being fed the Word?

S: Yes. If they change their attitude about the Word of God they can go out and preach it, even for nonbelievers. I saw that for the last 4 years in my church. The people go out and give witness. They are bringing (new) people to church.

T: That is beautiful. In Ethiopia there is a long Christian tradition, but there are also predominantly Muslim areas. Are you seeing any inroads into these areas?

S: Yes, especially in my place. Most people are Muslim because of that they call it Jeddah, named after one of the cities of Saudi Arabia. So we are working there and the ministers are bold enough and strong to share the Gospel. So it’s helpful.

T: The training helps pastors grow stronger and more confident?

S: Yeah, more confident in the Word of God, helping them to deal with other religions and many cults. This is good.

T: Thank you Solomon. This has been so encouraging. I will share this with others and we will pray for you and the team in Ethiopia.


To invest in the churches in Ethiopia with more training in the Scriptures, make a donation below:

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Why Training Others Can Help You Be a Better Pastor

leer la bibliaRussell Smidt shared over at Matthias Media’s GoThereFor.com eight ways training others in ministry has helped him grow as a pastor:

  1. A ministry training philosophy (Eph 4) reminds me that my church is really Jesus’ church. It grows and matures because of him. So, as I invest in others to serve in Jesus’ church, I’m reminded that I’m replaceable.
  2. A commitment to ministry training keeps me looking for the next generation of gospel workers that God is raising up to serve in his church, enabling growth.
  3. Being a ministry trainer exposes me to working in a ministry team. It also takes away some of the loneliness of gospel ministry.
  4. Ministry trainees keep me purposefully thinking about why I do what I do in ministry.
  5. Trying to be intentional about ministry training means I have to plan ahead to create opportunities for others to serve.
  6. The more intentional I am about ministry training, the more opportunities I start to see for others to serve in ministry.
  7. Inviting someone else to walk alongside and learn from me exposes my life to them. That vulnerable sharing of my life is good for my godliness.
  8. Seeing someone else have a go and grow in ministry spurs me on to keep serving Jesus and his people.

Read the whole article at GoThereFor.com.

Part of God’s Bigger Story

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Dear Friends and Partners,

I hate to wait. Long lines…or driving behind a too-slow car… or waiting for a website to load. Louise keeps reminding me, “be patient Craig!”

But, sometimes waiting is more than merely inconvenient…sometimes it’s agonizing. Waiting…for your loved one in surgery…for a job offer to come…for a wayward child to turn to the Lord…

Before the first Christmas, God’s people suffered and waited. Elizabeth and Zechariah were waiting for God to answer their prayers for a child (perhaps it was too late, or so it seemed). Simeon was waiting “for the consolation of Israel” because life in the Promised Land was full of sorrow. Anna spoke to all who were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” while the city was run by the over-rulers of Rome.

All of God’s people were waiting for Messiah. But it had been so very long. There had not been a son of David on the throne for almost 600 years. God had not spoken through the prophets for more than 400 years. Israel had been under foreign domination the whole time. How long would they have to wait until God came?

At last he came, almost sneaking into our world. What a motley crew God used!

  • Zechariah, a priest who refused to believe what the angel told him.
  • Elizabeth, a barren old woman.
  • John, an odd recluse.
  • Mary, an unmarried teenager.
  • Anna, a widow for 84 years.
  • Simeon, an old man ready to die.

They each discovered what they were really waiting for: for God to weave their stories into his Story.

What an amazingly gracious God…to include us in his Story. This year you have been a part of God’s story at Leadership Resources. You’ve prayed, you’ve volunteered, and you’ve given. Our team thanks God for you and wishes you a very Merry Christmas, as together we wait and work until He comes again.

With much gratitude in Christ our Lord,

craig-parroCraig Parro

President

PS: For those of you who haven’t given to Leadership Resources for some time (or perhaps never), would you please join with many of our friends who give a generous year-end gift?

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    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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